Moscow (AFP) Sep 03, 2002
Russia shot down the space-travel dreams of US boy band heart-throb Lance Bass on Tuesday, calling off his trip to the International Space Station because he could not afford the 20-million-dollar ticket for the flight.
Bass, the 23-year-old star of pop group N'Sync, returned to Moscow at the weekend after training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a flight that would have made him the youngest person ever to whiz around in space.
He had been due to resume training at the Star City space center outside Moscow when the final Russian pronouncement was made.
Bass could not be reached for comment because he reportedly returned in a huff to his posh central Moscow hotel after Russia's space center delivered its verdict.
He later checked out of the hotel without speaking to reporters.
Russia not only accused Bass of failing to honor his contract but also expressed regret that they ever got involved with the star, having picked his candidacy over less glamorous but far richer candidates who could have actually coughed up the cash.
"This is our final decision and is not subject to change," Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov told AFP.
"We bet on Bass, turned down other candidates," Gorbunov separately told ITAR-TASS news agency.
"Now even if Bass paid us 40 million dollars rather that the 20 million that he owes, this flight could still not take place. He cannot possibly prepare for the voyage in two months."
Bass has been in training for three months in a bid to become the first entertainer in space, following in the tracks of two other space tourists, US businessman Dennis Tito and South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth.
Russian officials and the singer's backers have been haggling over payment deadlines for the fare for weeks, with the singer's handlers accusing the Russians of getting bogged down in red tape.
The Soyuz rocket flight is scheduled to take off on October 28, with or without Bass.
It will include Russian commander Sergei Zalyotin, Belgian flight engineer Frank DeWinne and a 150-kilogram (90 pound) cargo in the place of Bass.
"Our financial experts estimate that Bass is worth some 300 to 400 million dollars," fumed Gorbunov. "But strictly speaking, it seems that he was let down by his other financial backers."
Bass's backers were believed to be seeking funding from a US television station, and the electronics retailer Radio Shack, who helped sponsor the earlier stages of the project.
The goal of the 10-day mission is to replace a lifeboat capsule for the space station.
Russia's space program is desperately stretched for cash, and its previous two decisions to offer commercial space shots for civilians prompted protests from US space officials, who argue that space tourists pose a danger to the entire ISS crew.
A total of 16 countries are collaborating on the station, which is scheduled for completion in 2006 at an estimated cost of 60 to 96 billion dollars.
Much of the ISS technology was inherited from the Soviet Union's pioneering Mir space station, which was allowed to break up in the atmosphere in March 2001, after 15 years in orbit.
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